Solar Garden Lights (that actually work)

Solar garden lights utilise the suns power to charge a small battery, which powers a light after darkness. These are great for garden areas and other outdoor spaces. Unlike other garden lights, they use no electricity and do not require regular battery changes. This means that they are a great environmentally friendly lighting option for your outside areas. Unfortunately most people have had negative experiences with solar garden lighting, simply because many models on the market are poorly made and have poor quality solar cells. However, a good quality solar light will produce light for many years, is completely safe and costs nothing to run!

Are all cheap solar garden lights poor quality?

A poor quality solar lightCheap solar garden lights are usually poor quality and do not give off enough light to be useful for safety purposes. This means that you shouldn’t rely on them for things such as lighting a path or an entry area to your home. Despite the fact that they will not light up a large area, they can be used for marking footpaths, garden edges and other obstacles. They are also suitable for decorative uses and can actually work out cheaper than other types of decorative garden lights. They can also be left running indefinitely without impacting significantly on their performance. Most solar lights, even cheap models, will run for at least a few hours into the night. More expensive models have the ability to auto switch on at night and off once the sun rises to begin a charging cycle.

A Choice review of solar lights in 2009 concluded that solar lights are purely decorative.

What are the best solar lights?

A high quality solar garden lightIf you want a solar light that is capable of lighting up an area after dark you should choose a light with the best light intensity rating possible. Most solar lights use LED’s, which use little power. In addition to this the battery is also an important consideration and it is always best to choose a battery technology that copes well with regular discharge and charge cycles. One of the best type of batteries for this purpose is LiFePO4 (also called LiPo or Lithium Polymer). This type of battery copes well with the constant charge-discharge cycle of a solar light, but the downside is that LiFePO4 batteries are quite expensive. Each solar light is rated for nightly run time, but most cheap lights fail to deliver this because the capacity of the low quality batteries deteriorate quickly. Another great option is the motion sensor solar light because these only work when they are needed. Another important consideration is the quality of the solar cell, because a high quality solar cell is capable of providing enough charge to power your lights for many nights. However, these features do not come cheap and this means that the best solar garden lights cost upwards of $100.

Installation and Maintenance

Solar lights are a simple DIY install and most require screwing or pushing the lantern into the upright post and then simply pushing the unit into the ground until it stands upright. Some solar lights come with mounting brackets and screws so they can be fixed to existing surfaces, but these lights are also relatively simple to install. Some solar light manufacturers have begun to use a separate solar panel, which have a cord running to the lights. Not only does this allow for a larger solar panel to be used, but also allows you to install solar lights in shaded areas. The most important factor when installing any type of solar light is that the solar cell is placed in a position where it receives the most amount of sunlight possible. Your light will usually come with a recommended hours of sunlight rating and it is best to exceed this if possible. Another important consideration for installation is the security of your solar lights. These lights are targets for thieves because they are easily removed, so some kind of permanent anchor is a good idea.

solar light battery replacement

Changing the battery is simple.

This type of light requires very little maintenance. The LED globes will run for many years without needing to be changed. The batteries should last 2-3 years and they are very simple to change when desired. It is also a good idea to clean your lights from time to time. This increases the efficiency of your solar cell and the brightness of your lights.

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Solar Water Features and Fountains

Adding a water feature or fountain to your outdoor area is a fantastic idea that can really add something special to your garden. However, the running costs and electrical requirements of using an electric pump can be off-putting. That is why many people are choosing the solar powered water feature/fountain option. This removes the costs of running an electric pump and removes all of the electrical requirements and potential dangers. A solar water feature really is the best option in most cases.
A solar water feature

Advantages of a solar water feature

There are a number of advantages of a solar water feature/fountain and these include:

  • There are no running costs for a solar pump. This not only benefits you in a financial sense, but also means you are having less of an impact of the environment.
  • A solar powered garden pump can be used almost anywhere, as long as there is enough sun.
  • No concerns about running an extension cord/electricity out into your garden and/or having the electricity exposed to the elements.
  • Does not require direct sunlight to operate. They will work in cloudy and overcast conditions.
  • Some solar pumps come with a battery backup for times when the solar panel is not providing enough power.
  • These pumps will continue to run for many years with little to no maintenance.

Types of solar water features/fountains

There are many different types of water features and fountains and solar models are available in almost any size and shape that you can think of. However, in terms of a solar setup there are three main options, which are listed below.

Readymade kit

A solar pump kit.A readymade kit includes everything that you will need to install your solar water feature/fountain. This will include the water feature itself, the pump, the solar panel and all wiring required. These kits are a great way to get started and you can usually have the entire system setup and running in under an hour. These are really easy to install and there is no knowledge of electrical components required.

Individual parts

You can also choose to purchase the individual components separately. This means that you will need to find a separate pump and then a solar cell that is capable of running your pump. This is best for those with some experience working with electrical systems. The advantage of this method is that it usually works out cheaper to source each part individually rather than purchasing a complete kit. It also allows you to only purchase what you need. For example, if you already have a pump then you won’t need to purchase another one.

Solar Conversion

A converted solar water fountainThe third option is for those that already own an electric water feature and want to convert it to run on solar power. This means you will need to purchase an appropriate solar cell and create new electrical connections. A solar conversion is best handled by a professional if you have limited experience.

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Solar Water Pumps

A farmer using a solar pump to draw water from a bore.A solar powered pump is a great alternative to a electric or diesel powered pump. They are not only more economical to run, but they also have far less impact on the environment. They can also be used in places where electricity is otherwise unavailable and where wind power is not suitable/does not produce enough energy. Solar water pumps come in range of sizes and can be used for anything from a small outdoor aquarium or swimming pool through to pumping water from a bore providing for a domestic water supply, irrigation or livestock.

Advantages of a Solar Pump

  • A solar pump reduces electricity/petrol usage and is environmentally friendly.
  • A high efficiency solar pumps will also work in many low light applications, such as early and late afternoon sun and also on cloudy days.
  • Solar pumps can be used for a wide variety of applications.
  • Many solar pumps feature digital monitoring and control, which means that they are easy to operate.
  • Submersible solar pumps are available and can be used the same way as a standard submersible pump.
  • Solar pumps are very reliable and require very little maintenance.
  • A solar pump kit is easy to install and comes pre wired and ready to run!
  • Are a great replacement for windmills and any electric or petrol pumps.
  • Solar pumps are very efficient and powerful. They can pump water from up to 230m below ground level!
  • Solar pumps are eligible for various government rebates and incentives such as Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).

Disadvantages

There are also some disadvantages over more traditional forms of pumps. The main disadvantage is the higher initial outlay cost of a solar pump. This can be offset somewhat by the solar rebates as well as the long term savings, but the higher initial cost remains a concern for some people. Solar power also requires enough sunlight to power the pump. This means that solar power may not be suitable in applications where sunlight is restricted, such as under the shade of a tree, or where your pump needs to run during hours of darkness. This can be managed by using a hybrid solar/electric or solar/petrol system.

Solar Pump Kits

A solar pump kitSolar pump kits are available for almost any situation and take the hassle out of installing your new pump. They come pre wired and ready to install and most people are able to install the system by themselves. A basic solar pump kit contains solar panels (photovoltaic array), motor and pump. A fully featured kit will also include digital controllers, isolation and low level switch/s, all cabling and plugs, solar panel frame and more. Regarding the warranty period, it is important to know that most solar panels have a 15-25 year warranty period, but the other components in a solar pump kit may have far less warranty coverage.

Choosing a Kit

The size of your solar panel, motor and pump depends on your needs. If you are unsure about what will work best for you then it is best to speak with an industry expert. Many solar pump providers will be happy to make a visit to your property to better assess your needs.

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Gas Powered Split System Air Conditioning

Are you looking for an alternative to standard air conditioning systems, but solar power isn’t an option? Maybe a gas powered air conditioning system would suit your needs and work towards lowering your power bill. This is a great option for homes and businesses with access to natural gas because this cooling option is far cheaper to run than a standard electric air conditioner. These air conditioners are also very effective and have virtually the same cooling (and heating) ability as the electric powered models. Read on to find out if this type of air conditioner is right for your needs.

Gas Powered Split Systems

A gas powered split system.A gas powered air conditioner is virtually identical to an electric split system air conditioner. However, in the gas powered model a small gas engine drives the compressor in the outdoor unit instead of an electric motor. The gas motor can automatically change speed to regulate the temperature inside the room. The outside unit is sometimes called a gas heat pump and are commonly used in other parts of the world.

Gas powered split systems are extremely efficient and are available in multi-room configurations. This means that a single outside unit can run a number of indoor units. This is a perfect way to cool and heat a family home, office, school or other type of building with multiple rooms. For example, an 85kW gas powered outdoor unit can easily cool 8 separate rooms while using minimal electricity. The efficiency to power usage ratio of these units is unmatched. The added benefit to this is that the inside units are standard split system models, which means that the cost is comparable to the standard split system install.

Installation

A tradesman installing a split system air conditioner.Installation of a gas powered split system is no more complex than a standard split system. However, the gas fittings must be installed be a qualified and licensed installer. Installation costs vary with the installer, but it should cost about the same as an electric air conditioner installation. Some parts of the installation, such as mounting the air conditioner units, are suitable for DIY, but we always recommend a fully qualified and experienced installer.

Benefits of a Gas Powered Air Conditioner

Long Servicing PeriodA gas powered split system only needs to be serviced once every 5 years (or every 10,000 hours)!
Reduced Energy Bills and Environmental ImpactUsing a gas heat pump system cuts the amount of electricity the unit uses by up to 90%! You can even combine solar power and gas to remove the need for mains power at all. It is estimated that a gas powered unit is 30-50% cheaper to run. Government rebates may be available in certain states and territories.
Multiple Room Cooling AbilityA single gas outdoor unit can be used to run a number of inside heating and cooling units.
Mostly Off the ShelfThe inside unit/s used in a gas powered air conditioning system are standard units.
Work in Extreme ColdA gas heat pump uses waste heat from the unit to remove ice from the condenser coils. An electric system needs to run de-icing cycles before it can begin heating.
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Solar Ventilation and Heat Extraction for Your Roof Space

A large roof area can act link a giant solar collector, and this transfers heat into your house. This might be welcome in the depths of winter, but during summer your house can heat up like an oven. This not only creates an unpleasant temperature in your home, but it also means that you need to use more energy to cool it down. Fortunately, there are many options for reducing the temperature in your roof space and venting the hit air. One of these is solar ventilation and heat extraction, which is designed to draw hot and moist air from your roof space. The following guide provides everything you need to know about this type of ventilation system as well as comparisons with other popular heat extraction options.

How Solar Ventilation Works

A solar ventilation systemA solar ventilation system is similar to many other types of ventilation/heat extraction systems. The basic unit consists of a motor and fan which pulls the heat and moisture out of roof space. This is an extremely simply, yet effective, system and can be installed on most houses. The main difference between this and other systems is that the solar system uses energy from the sun to power the motor, which then turns the fan. This is a great way to power the unit as it is operating with free energy from the sun. This means that once it is installed there are no ongoing costs to run a solar heat extraction unit!

The following video shows how this type of ventilation works and how it can benefit your house.

Benefits

  • Reduce the amount of hot air in your home and reduce your energy use for cooling.
  • Remove excess moisture which can damage your ceiling and cause mould and mildew to grow.
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Very effective
  • No ongoing running costs
  • Fully sealed to prevent water leakage

Wind Vents (Whirlybirds) Compared to Solar Ventilation

A whirlybirdOne of the most popular non-solar options are wind vents, also known as Whirlybirds. These are also very effective at removing heat from the roof space. However, they do have some downsides that must be considered. The first drawback of the Whirlybird system is that it is powered by the wind. This works fine when there is enough wind to operate the system, but they can fail to operate effectively on some very still days. Other disadvantages of wind vents is that they have been known to allow water entry into the roof cavity and they can also become quite noisy in some situations. On the other hand, solar heat extraction systems will work when there is no wind blowing and continue to run even on cloudy days. The solar systems also offer a flatter profile and look great on any room. In terms of efficiency, a good quality solar venting system, such as the Solar Star RM1600, is equivalent to about 15 Whirlybirds!

Cost

The cost is one area that Whirlybirds beat the competition, but solar heat extraction systems are becoming much more affordable. In addition to this government subsidies and grants may be available to you if you are installing this technology in your home.

Installation

We recommend that you have your solar ventilation system installed by a professional, but many people have chosen to install the unit themselves. They can be installed on new or existing homes. The existing home installation takes a little bit longer, but can usually be completed in less than a day. Installing lower intake vents inside the house is also a good idea and makes the system even more efficient at extracting heat from your home.

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